Archive for August 3rd, 2009

Poisoned Flannel

August 3, 2009


Murderous Mysteries of Manufacturing.

(Correspondence New York World.)
Harrisburg, PA, March 23.

A SUIT is pending in one of the civil courts of this State, growing out of the following facts: During 1869, 1870 and 1871 many paragraphs appeared in the papers in different parts of the country, chronicling cases of poisoning from wearing flannel, usually red flannel. It is since claimed to have been discovered that the diseases so produced were essentially of one type, and never ensued except to person who had been wearing flannel of the manufacture of Messrs. Rhees & Howell, Howlet Creek, Pa. The suit is brought by some of the stockholders of Rhees & Howel’s flannel works against the estate of young Mr. Rhees for damages done to their interests by new processes of manufacture introduced by him, which processes are said to have led to the disastrous effects above referred to, and in consequence of which their fabrics were rejected from the market and their dividends reduced to nothing.

The establishment of Rhees & Howel was one of the most respectable and wealthy manufactories in the country, and its dividends during at least a generation had been regular and handsome. The business had been managed in chief by the men of the firm, and when, in 1868, old Mr. Rhess died, Howel telegraphed to Europe for his son to come and fill his place. When young Rhees returned — early in 1869 — Howel had also died, and the entire management of the concern devolved upon him and Mr. David Morgans, the intelligent foreman, who had been connected with the business for more than twenty-five years.

Mr. Griffith Rhees was about thirty years old when he returned. He had been five years in Europe, most of the time in the University of Berlin, where he had been pursuing a course of technical science and applied chemistry, with the express object of fitting himself for his prospective duties as a manfacturer.

Mr. Rhees was not a dreamer, but a man of extremely practical views. He never let conjecture override fact in his mind, and when he returned to the superintendency of the Howlet Creek factory his first step in the administration of affairs showed him to be a business man of no ordinary qualities. He called them together and showed them by irresistible figures that the Rhees & Howel mills were losing money. He convinced them that the protective duty of 120 1/2 per cent on flannels, high as it was, did not compensate them for the offset duty of 69 1/2 per cent on fine wool, and the other taxes that burdened their manufacture. The stockholders proposed to suspend operations. This, however, Mr. Rhees opposed, convincing them that by this course they would lose their skilled labor and their old and well-established custom.

“Besides, gentleman,” said he, “I mean to show you that American brains, American machinery and American capital can do more than the same things in any other part of the world.”

One day, returning from a walk, Mr. Rhees called Morgans into his study and unrolled before him a strip of something that was like cloth, nigh the third of an inch thick, gray on one side, greenish on the other, with the texture and something of the touch of felt.

“What’s that?” said Mr. Rhees.

Morgans shook his head. “It might be thick-milled flannel, but it isn’t. I never handled any cloth like that.”

“It’s a vegetable,” said Mr. Rhees.

“It’s a codfervoit plant known as ‘water-flannel,’ and grows in our mill-dams.”

Morgans started. “Cott!” said he, “if we could only get a good crop of that sort of thing on the ponds, we could let the tariff and the taxes go to the devil!”

Mr. Rhees did not reply, but placing a bit of the cloth under a microscope, showed Morgans that it was really a vegetable fungus, made up of myriads of jointed threads woven together symmetrically and firmly, so as to have the texture and simulate to the actual fabric of a cloth made by machinery.

This was still in the early part of 1869, Morgans’ affidavit tells us; and it was only a few days later that Mr. Rhees summoned him again, and submitted to his inspection a piece of red flannel, which Morgans avers was in every respect not less than 25 per cent above the standard quality produced at the mill.

“That’s English,” said Morgans; “I know the feel of it.”

“That’s Howlet Creek and Rhees & Howel’s mill pond!” retorted Mr. Rhees. “That’s made out of the piece of vegetable fibre I showed you the other day,” added he.

“Impossible!” said Morgans.

“I knew that I could make cloth out of it,” added Mr. Rhees, “and I have done it.”

Morgans’ affidavit goes on to recount very circumstantially the processes resorted to by Mr. Rhees to convert the vegetable fabric into a durable cloth, to keep up the strength and continuity of its fibre, and prevent the fungus from undergoing decomposition.

“Now, Morgans,” added Mr. Rhees, “you must keep this matter a secret, for I am going to perform miracles, and we shall have the hands burning us up if it gets out. I mean to dispense, with factory, machinery, and all, I mean to make our mill ponds manufacture this thing for us as fast as we need it, and so cheap that we can sell it, pound for pound and drive even unwashed wool out of the market!”

Morgans looked at his employer, as if he expected to find him turned lunatic. He saw instead a handsome, intelligent face, glowing with fine enthusiasm.

“See here,” said Mr. Rhees, using his microscope, “do you see this? This cloth is simply vegetable fibre and starch. Starch is the most readily organizable of all materials, and if chemical synthesis cannot establish the conditions precedent to the unlimited production of these globules of feculae and their enwrapping fibre, it ought to surrender claims to usefulness. I say this: I already know how to make cheap cloth, and good cloth, out of this fungus, and I will find means to induce these mill ponds of ours to produce the fungus, just when, how, and as much as we want.”

Mr. Rhees was now occupied for more than two years in perfecting and reducing to practice his various and complicated processes. After he had found out how to consummate and regulate the production of the fungus, there was machinery to invent and to be made that would enable them to gather it cheaply, and there were besides a great number of subsidiary experiments to be conducted, so that the inventor’s time was fully occupied. Meanwhile the mill had been steadily working on, doing its three quarter time with satisfaction to all concerned.

Meanwhile, also, there had been put upon the market from the Rhees & Howel mill, slowly, in small lots, and with a careful avoidance of everything like asking attention to it, a new grade of flannel, mostly red in color, thick milled, rather hard to the touch, and with very short nap, but otherwise not peculiar, except that it seemed to be a very fine goods. This flannel had a particular trade mark of its own, and was called the “Rhees fibre.” It was only “for trial,” and at prices averaging 25 per cent below the market standard for similar qualities, but always in small lots and to different purchasers. This good, thus distinctly separated from the common product of the mills the parties who bring the suit claim will be specifically identified as the article whose introduction caused them the damages they allege, and indeed brought on the catastrophe of the Rhees & Howel mills.

Morgans’ says that it was only in October, 1871, that Mr. Rhees had finally completed all his preparations. Even then he was only able to make the final experiment upon a small surface at the upper end of the mill dam, on account of the deficiency of help. It would not yet do to take the hands into the secret. Rhees in fact wanted to get possession of all the stock first, and then turning his factory into a co-operative union, take all hands into business partnership with him at the same time that he shared with them the new secret. The operatives had already suspicions of something, and were only kept from murmurs of dissatisfaction by hints which Rhees threw out of his intentions toward them. In one night, therefore, Rhees and Morgans, using a model of the landing machinery, brought to the shore enough of the fabric to make 200 yards of flannel. This was loaded into country wagons hired for the purpose, delivered at the mill, and stored in an unused room, all under cover of darkness. By the 20th of December Rhees and Morgans, working at odd times, had submitted this to the chemical and dressing processes necessary, had prepared it for market, and on that date, says Morgans, for the first time, a large consignment of the “Rhees fibre” was made to  their New York agents, along with other goods shipped them as usual.

Rhees, following up his plan, had been actively negotiating with the several holders for the purchase of their shares of stock in his mill. On the 17th of April, 1872, at 10 in the morning, Rhees came into the mill office, looking considerably disturbed.

Morgans asked him what was the matter. He replied that his child, an infant less than a year old, was very much complaining. It had seemed to be threatened with croup; but in the night it had had a sudden attack of fever, with a decided crimson eruption, and he had sent for the doctor, fearing it was scarlatina.

“But that is not the chief trouble,” said Rhees; “see this.”

And he opened a medical journal published in Louisville, and pointed Morgans to an article in it on a new disease just diagnosed there. It was styled in the article “Mycolloidal Dermestitus,” was said to be a peculiar eruption, attended with great irritation of the skin, running an uncertain course, complicated with cerebral symptoms, more or less marked, and terminating variously. Cases were mentioned in which the eruptions lasted weeks, and then disappeared as suddenly as it came, others in which the attack was violent and the result as immediately fatal as in malignant erysipelas. The disease was said to be caused by wearing red flannel.

“I don’t believe it, Morgans,” said Mr. Rhees. “But even if it is not so, and such a thing gets abroad, it will ruin our business. If people suspect that there is such a thing as poisonous red flannel in the market, they will decline to buy any flannel.”

Morgans said not a word, but going to a drawer in his desk, procured a scrap book, opened it, and pointed his employer to a long column of newspaper clippings, enumerating cases of sickness and death from wearing red flannel.

“You see, there’s none of ’em older than ’69,” said Morgans.

“Good God, Morgans!” cried Mr. Rhees, “what do you mean?”

“Didn’t we sell a piece of that flannel to Jones & Rhenhardt, in Louisville? I tell you that it’s our flannel — the Rhees fibre — that’s poisoning all these folks.”

“It is not — it cannot be!” cried Mr. Rhees, in great agitation. “Every part of the process, all the articles used in it, are perfectly innocuous.”

“Then it’s the fungus that does it,” persisted Morgans. “I’ve watched these things some time, and I know it’s our flannel.”

Morgans says Mr. Rhees stood like a man thunderstruck. He faltered, staggered, and could not speak. At this instant a servant came running to him from his house, and told him the doctor had come and wanted to see him at once — the baby was very ill.

“Morgans,” said Mr. Rhees, as he went out of the door, making a painful effort ot control his agitation, “telegraph at once to our factors to stop these goods peremptorily, and no matter at what cost.”

Morgans did as he was bidden; and in the course of half an hour Mr. Rhees returned to the office, looking — so the foreman said — like a man sentenced to death.

“Morgans,” said he, “where di the piece of flannel come from I sent for yesterday?”

“It was the Rhees fibre; I thought you wanted it for some of your experiments. Good God, Mr. Rhees! You didn’t put that around your child’s neck, did you?”

“What else!” said the unhappy man, forcing himself to be calm; “and the child is dying, and the doctor pronounces the disease to be — O God! I am punished! I am punished!”

And to Morgan’s great distress Mr. Rhees broke into a great weeping.

At this moment a telegraph boy arrived with a dispatch, which Mr. Rhees read and then handed to Morgans, controlling himself and becoming suddenly calm once more, by an effort which the faithful foreman said was more frightful to witness than his sobs and tears. The message said that the orders arresting the sale of the consignment of the Rhees fibre had come too late. The goods had been sold on very satisfactory terms to another house, which had already reported that they were to be made up into uniforms for General Herrera’s army.

“You see, Morgans,” said Mr. Rhees, “the fire I kindled has gone beyond my own house.”

As he spoke, the doctor came to the door and laid his hand on Mr. Rhees’ shoulder.

“Your child is dead,” said he; “go comfort your wife.”

“I am going — to make reparation to her, and to all,” answered Mr. Rhees, walking out of the office.

After much search his body was found, two days later, in the deepest part of the mill dam. The stockholders suspended operations at the mill at once, attached the property of Rhees, and brought suit as above mentioned. The case will come to trial soon as the messengers who have been despatched for witnesses from General Herrera’a army shall have returned.

The Ohio Democrat (New Philadelphia, Ohio) Apr 5, 1872


Read more online about water-flannel in the following 1844 magazine (Google Books, page 282) at the link:

Title    The eclectic magazine of foreign literature, science, and art
Publisher    Leavitt, Trow, & Co., 1844

Item notes    v. 1
Original from Indiana University
Digitized Feb 3, 2009


The “Poisoned Flannel” story, which we published last week, is styled by the Holmes County Farmer a “skillfully concocted scientific sensation, but people are not required to believe it on our account.” Just so.

The Ohio Democrat (New Philadelphia, Ohio) Apr 12, 1872


I posted this story in the Tragic Tuesday category because  I totally fell for it when I read it in the old newspaper! I then spent about an hour searching the archives for more articles about this “tragedy” and came up completely empty, until I finally found the snippet above which was published in the same paper the following week. I bet the editors had a real good laugh.

Anyway, I do think it’s a good story, even if it isn’t true.

James McCoy: Notorious Desperado

August 3, 2009


How Marshal Ira Campbell Caught McCoy, the Notorious Desperado.


McCoy Had Murdered Marshal Kellet and Was a Terror to Lookout Mountain.

Campbell’s Plucky Fight.

The death of Deputy Marshal Ira Campbell, which occurred in Royston, Wednesday, recalls one of the most exciting and sensational captures known in the revenue annals of the Northern district.

The capture was made in 1886 — just eight years ago, when Marshal Campbell, in a hand-to-hand encounter with McCoy, the desperado of Lookout mountain, finally succeeded in slapping the handcuffs on the criminal and delivering him over to the law.

For a number of years McCoy had been a terror to the regions about Lookout. His feats of reckless daring and notorious temerity caused the people up there to look upon him with fear and trembling; but the climax of his criminal record was the murder of Deputy Marshal W.D. Kellet.

McCoy had treasured his hatred against Kellet for a number of years. He had sworn revenge against the marshal for making a raid upon a still with which he was connected, and he bided his time in quiet determination. In December, 1885, Marshal Kellet left Atlanta for Lookout to arrest a moonshiner named Young, little dreaming the fearful fate awaiting him. While making his way to the house of Young at a precipitous turn in the road, McCoy stepped out and offered to assist in making the arrest. Kellet thought that something was up and rode on, refusing his aid.

Upon his return down the mountain with the prisoner in charge, the marshal stopped at a stream to water his horse. As he was leaning over to unhitch the bridle rein, two rifle shots rang out from the cliff overhead and at the same time he fell from his horse fatally shot.

Young, the moonshiner, was suspected and arrested for the murder. He stoutly declared his innocence, however, and said that he recognized the face of McCoy just as the gun flashed.

Search then was made in every direction for McCoy, but he had fled and nothing was heard of him until February, when word reached Captain Nelms, who, at that time was United States marshal, that he had been seen in Cherokee country.

Captain Nelms at once organized a posse of his best men and commanding it in person, he started out for Cherokee. The place was reached at night and the posse divided, Captain Nelms heading one squad and Captain Chapman, Marshals Colquitt Campbell and Scott composing the other. Captain Nelm’s squad went over to the house where McCoy’s brother lived, while the other crowd started for the house of old man Simmons, where McCoy was supposed to be hiding. In some way the men got scattered, Marshal Campbell had gone to the rear of the house. He heard a noise at his back and turned around quickly, cocking his gun at the same time. Before he could realize it, a pistol was shoved in his face and he recognized his opponent as McCoy. With the fearlessness which always characterized his actions, Marshal Campbell dashed the pistol to the ground and grappled. In some way the pistol went off, shattering Campbell’s hand. But he held on to McCoy and for some minutes there was waged a furious and desperate fight.

Campbell had succeeded in getting McCoy on his back and was choking his tongue out when the rest of the deputies ran up to the rescue.

In telling of the event yesterday afternoon, Captain W.H. Chapman said:

“That was the only time I ever saw Campbell mad. Naturally, he was always cool, deliberate and self-collected — especially in dangerous places. But it seemed as if a demon was in him that night. He would have choked the desperado to death, I think, if we had not came up so soon. Campbell was one of the best and bravest officers in the service and his death is a sad, sad thing.”

The Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Feb 24, 1894.



ATLANTA, Ga., Feb. 23. — Last night, 12 miles from Canton, James McCoy, the murderer of Deputy Kellett, was captured. Since the deed was committed Marshal Nelms has been working on the case, and when McCoy came into Georgia the Marshal knew it. Last night he organized a posse and started for the home of McCoy.

When he arrived there he found that the man he wanted was at home. McCoy was prepared for intruders, and when his door opened he and his three brothers and a man named Chumly met the posse with pistol shots, and but for the coolness with which Marshal Nelms and his deputies acted, a fatal fight would have taken place. Deputy Ira Campbell was nearest McCoy, and instead of killing, he only knocked him down with his gun. The others, seeing their leader captured, gave up without resistance.

Kellett had been a lifelong companion of McCoy. Ten years ago the two men quarreled, when Kellett shot McCoy. The latter secured the bullet, and declared that he could never part with it until he sent it into Kellett’s body. Of late years McCoy has been an illicit distiller. When Marshal Nelms came into office he made Kellett one of his deputies.

The first work assigned to him was the capture of his old adversary. When in a secluded spot near McCoy’s den in Chattooga County, Kellett was shot down by two men, one of whom was McCoy. Since that time the other man has not been heard from, and the rumor is that he, too, was killed by McCoy, so as to be out of the way.

The New York Times (New York, New York) Feb 24, 1886



The Jury at Ringgold Returns a Verdict of Not Guilty.


How the Verdict Was Received in Atlanta — McCoy Again Arrested, This Time Upon a Different Charge.

Yesterday morning, Captain J.W. Nelms, United States marshal, received a telegram from Ringgold, Georgia, from Hon. George R. Brown, announcing in a laconic way the termination of an important murder trial in Walker county. “The jury finds McCoy not guilty.”


On the 6th of December, 1885, Deputy Marshall W.D. Kellett, was killed on Lookout mountain, while having under arrest one Calvin Young. Kellett was found partly in a creek. At the coroner’s inquest Calvin Young swore that he did not know who fired the shot, but when afterwards arrested for being accessory to the murder, and while under arrest, admitted that James McCoy had made him promise on the night of the killing that he would not tell who killed Kellett threatening to kill him if he did tell.

Young said he saw McCoy and the smoke of his gun. McCoy was arrested and tried in Walker superior court in April, 1886, convicted and sentenced to be hanged. The case was carried to the supreme court, and the court below was reversed on the ground of error in the charge of the presiding judge.

On Monday last the second trial commenced, with an able array of counsel on both sides. For the state appeared Hon. C.T. Clements, solicitor general; Colonel I.E. Shumate, of Dalton; Judge J.M. Bella, of Summerville; and Mr. T.W. Copeland, of LaFayette. Hon. George R. Brown, of Cherokee; Hon. William C. Glenn of Dalton, and Mr. C.T. Ladson, of Atlanta, represented McCoy. The trial lasted until Friday. Every inch of ground was stoutly contested on both sides, and those present compliment the ability of counsel on both sides.

On the second trial Calvin Young testified that he was under duress, by reason of the threats of McCoy at the coroner’s inquest. Andy Young, one of the witnesses, since the first trial had moved to Arkansas, and was not present. The defense proved by several witnesses that at the time of the murder McCoy was four and a half miles from the place where the murder occurred.

The counsel for the defense advanced the theory that the murder was committed by Calvin Young, his father and Young’s brother, and charged the crime on McCoy to shield themselves. They stressed the point that while Calvin Young testified that the killing was done by a single rifle shot, that the testimony of others was that Kellett’s had was riddled with buckshot when it was found.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and McCoy was discharged.


Captain J.W. Nelms, United States marshal, in commenting on the verdict, said to a reporter of THE CONSTITUTION, “You can say for me, that I consider the verdict a gross outrage, there is no disputing the fact that Kellett was waylaid, shot and murdered by McCoy.”

Mr. C.T. Ladson, remarked to a representative of THE CONSTITUTION, “In my opinion, McCoy is innocent. The evidence showed that the Youngs decoyed Kellett that day for the purpose of killing him. The jury was composed of very intelligent men, and their verdict is right.”

McCoy Again Arrested.

Later in the day Captain Nelms received the following telegram from Tryon factory.
McCoy was acquitted and rearrested on the charge of attempt to rape. (Signed) G.B. MYERS

Captain Nelms said he knew nothing about this last charge except that the offense is said to have been committed in Cherokee county some years ago.

Mr. C.T. Ladson remarked that in his opinion it was an old charge revamped to hold McCoy until papers could be served on him for obstructing an officer of the federal government in the discharge of his duty.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Dec 18, 1887



His Confinement at Canton — Captain Nelm’s Experiences There.

A few days ago THE CONSTITUTION chronicled the fact that immediately after being acquitted of the murder of Deputy Marshal Kellett  Mr. James McCoy was arrested on a warrant charging him with rape committed in Cherokee county in 1881. The sheriff of Waller county carried McCoy to Canton, where the prisoner was lodged in jail.

On Monday Captain J.W. Nelms United States marshal went to Canton with a warrant charging McCoy with obstructing a United States officer in the discharge of duty by shooting Deputy Marshal Ira C. Campbell on the night that he (McCoy) was arrested for the murder of Deputy Marshal Kellett. Captain Nelms said yesterday that McCoy’s brothers were all assembled in Canton on Monday making arrangements to give a bond for McCoy but on learning that Captain Nelms was expected at ? o’clock they changed their idea. Knowing that their brother would be detained in jail there by the process of the state courts, they prefer that he should stay there to coming to Atlanta.

Captain Nelms says that previous to his arrival the McCoys were very boisterous, and made threats as to what they should do to Captain Nelms if he came in person, but he passed through them, and they made no demonstrations. From the number gathered in Canton, the marshal feared that an attempt might be made on Monday night to rescue McCoy. So he and his deputy T.W. Kellogg, slept in the jail with the sheriff of Cherokee county. No effort was, however, made during the night.

Yesterday Captain Nelms left the warrant with the sheriff of Cherokee county to execute the moment McCoy gave bond in the other case.

Captain Nelms said, “You can say that I was surprised to see the statement made by Mr. C.T. Ladson that the state warrant was a trumped up charge, leaving the inference that it was done by the federal authorities in order to give time for the serving of the warrant for the shooting of Deputy Marshal Campbell. The fact is that this state case is for an offense committed in 1881, four years before the murder of Deputy Marshal Kellett, and nearly five years before the shooting of Deputy Marshal Campbell. This action on the part of Mr. Ladson is in keeping with his maneuvers in the trial for the murder of Kellett, attempting to prejudice the public mind in favor of his client and depreciating the efforts of the federal officers in aiding the state to convict a man who had murdered a citizen.”

Mr. C.T. Ladson stated in a conversation with a CONSTITUTION man that he believed that there was nothing in the state warrant, as the father of the girl had been a friend of McCoy’s for years, and he did not believe that the federal authorities could convict McCoy under their warrant for shooting at Deputy Marshal Campbell.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Dec 21, 1887


The following image was of poor quality, so there are parts I couldn’t read well enough to transcribe:



His Usual Luck was with Him Yesterday —

The History of the Last Murder Trial and His Subsequent Troubles.

The luckiest man that ever stood a trial in the courts of —– was acquitted yesterday. That man is James McCoy of Cherokee county.

The charge of which he was acquitted was “re—ing an officer of the United States in the —- of his duty.”


Deputy Marshal William D. Kellet was killed in Walker county, at the corner of three states, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

He had in charge at the time a revenue prisoner named Andy Young. Kellett was on horseback and his prisoner afoot, going to Summerville.

About ? miles from Summerville, in the heart of — and sparsely settled country, he —- —- known as Snake Dam creek. At the time there was a foot log for pedestrians and the prisoner started across this, while Kellett led his horse into the water beside him.

Suddenly — was a rifle shot from a clump of —- rear and Kellett threw up his —- and fell from his horse into the …

[Skipped a large part, hard to read the poor image.]


McCoy had been under sentence of death nearly twelve months.

As soon as he was acquitted in Walker county he was immediately rearrested upon two warrants sworn out in Cherokee.

One charged him with attempted rape and the other with carrying concealed weapons.

Of —- after the other, he was acquitted.


Then this last case came on for resisting Deputy Campbell in the discharge of his duty — the time Campbell was shot.

And — yesterday, McCoy was acquitted.


About eighteen? years ago McCoy was tried in ?artow county for the murder of a negro.

He was acquitted.
But ——- there have been a number — against him for violations of the revenue law.

But yesterday afternoon he stepped out of the court room a free man, no charge against him.


One of the most deeply interested spectators in court yesterday was John Coffee.

The two men are close friends, and Coffee was the first man to congratulate McCoy on his acquittal. The two walked out of court and —— street arm in arm.

Coffee will be remembered as the man recently acquitted of the murder of Deputy Marshal M—– and his case and that of McCoy  —–….

Both  men were tried twice for murder, the second trial in each case resulting in acquittal.


While McCoy has been miraculously lucky in securing acquittals, one after another, it seems that a peculiar ill-fortune has attended others interested.

Judge Branham’s conduct in the case is said to have aroused some unlooked for opposition to his re-election, and this was a factor in defeating him in one of the closest elections ever held in the legislature.

Judge Fain, on the other hand, acquitted McCoy, and his conduct of the case aroused opposition from the other side, and this contributed largely towards his defeat for re-election..

The feeling aroused in each case was purely personal, but was very bitter.

And after all — McCoy is a free man.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 9, 1890


The following are PDF links to related New York Times Articles: